Cohabiting for Covid-19? Ask yourself these 3 questions

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Covid-19 is forcing everyone to live very different lives and it is perhaps even more challenging for couples who have not yet taken steps to live together.  Due to the current social distancing and self-isolation restrictions imposed by the government, couples in this scenario will either face spending a significant period of time apart or moving in with each other perhaps earlier than they envisaged.  Both of which could have their own challenges.

The government was asked to address this position in yesterday’s press briefing (24 March 2020) and the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jennifer Harries OBE suggested, in short, that couples should just test the strength of their relationship” by staying apart or moving in together. Matt Hancock PM summed it up, make your choice and stick with it”.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jennifer Harries OBE

“The principle is that we want people to stay in their household units primarily…. If you’re two individuals, two halves of a couple, are currently in separate households, ideally, they should stay in those households… The alternative might be, that for quite a significant period going forward, they should just test the strength of their relationship and decide whether one wishes to be permanently resident in another household. The issue here, what we do not want is people switching in and out of households. It defeats the purpose of the reduction in social interactions, and will allow transmission of disease,” Harries said. “So perhaps test very carefully your strength of feeling, stay with the household, either together or apart, but keep it that way while we go forward because otherwise, we will not all be working towards achieving our outcome.”

If you and your partner decide that now is the time to start cohabiting, whether that decision is driven primarily by your love and commitment to each other or by financial considerations, it will be important to consider how these new arrangements may affect you financially and legally in the long term.  Questions you should consider are:

  1. Are you going to be sharing the bills?
  2. Is the person moving in going to be contributing to the mortgage?
  3. What are your intentions regarding the beneficial ownership of the property?

The answers to these questions could affect property ownership so careful consideration should be given prior to your partner moving in with you. 

Considerations for the legal owner

If you are the sole legal owner of your property, you need to consider whether your partner will be able to claim some form of beneficial interest in your property if you invite them to move in and your partner commences making financial contributions to the property.

Usually, where a property is owned by one party, your partner will not automatically be entitled to an interest in it.  However, at some future date, your partner could seek to establish a beneficial interest in the property by virtue of their financial contribution to it.

If your partner brings such a claim, the Court will look at whether you agreed that, despite how the property was owned, the person not registered as owner would be entitled to a share in the property.   If there is no specific agreement setting out what you agree in relation to their living in the property and making financial contributions,  the Court will look at your behaviour,  financial contributions and communications to determine if the other party is entitled to an interest in the property.  The lack of written agreement does not prevent claims such as this being brought.   The Court can determine that the non-owning party should receive an interest in the property.

It is therefore vital that you are clear about what your intentions are when you first start to cohabit, and as the relationship progresses, especially if the nature of the financial contributions of your partner change over time.

If you wish to try to protect your property interest from any future claims, you should consider entering into a Cohabitation Agreement (see below) to formalise the terms of your agreement with your partner.

Considerations for the party moving in

If you are going to be paying a monthly contribution towards the running costs of the property, you should discuss, agree and document with your partner whether those contributions will result in you being entitled to a share in the property.  For example, do you believe that the payment you are going to make:

  1. is ‘rent’ or a contribution to your everyday living expenses, only payable whilst you are living at the property and not intended to give you any interest in the property; or
  2. is, at least in part, directly reducing the balance of the mortgage on the property or assisting in a fundamental way that will result in you being entitled to a share in the property?

If the answer is (b), then should that be disputed in the future, it will be for you to evidence that it was you and your partners intention for you to have a beneficial interest, and what that interest should amount to. Ideally, you would have a should have a signed agreement setting this out and again, a Cohabitation Agreement may be suitable for this purpose.

There is more information about Cohabitation Agreements available here: https://www.ibblaw.co.uk/insights/blog/unmarried-couples-and-cohabitation-agreements-do-i-need-one.

If you have any questions about your specific circumstances or would like to discuss entering into a co-habitation agreement with your partner, please contact the Family Team at IBB Solicitors.